Last week, Google launched a new project called “Google Glass” to introduce augmented reality (AR)eyewear. The response seems to run from one polar end of skeptical all the way to Orwellian panic. Fears of Google collecting more data aside (or the annoyance of Google pushing its own apps for photos, maps and social), the important point is that augmented reality can be good for cities and will be great for suburbs.
Here’s the promo from Google (if you don’t want to watch the whole thing – here are highlights: weather report while looking out window (16 seconds), subway alert & alternative route (38 seconds), missed opportunity with what dogs are really thinking (48 seconds), purchase tickets while walking past promo poster (1 minute), creepy exact location of friend he is supposed to meet (minute 1.20), take photo with glasses (minute 1.45).
Right now AR feels like a coffee-spotting, let's turn a city into a game board video game, but for urban planning, there are four big uses of augmented reality.
Transit and Transportation
The opportunities for use in transit are humongous for both big ticket transit and local bus. Phone and tablet Apps for larger transit agencies are on the rise and getting better (HopStop, Embark), though most urbanites know their routes. However, with aging infrastructure, one of the bigger uses (alas) will be faster, more accessible system alerts and immediate presentation of alternatives.
The other market is for what I call “tourists.” These are people (including non-transit using residents) who don’t know the basic information needed to embark on a transit tour, know exactly what stop is theirs, and can be unfamiliar with their surroundings. While apps are adding step-by-step directions, augmented reality allows a user to point their screen in a direction to see where to go/disembark rather than rely on “go north two blocks.” Augmented reality also allows presentation of multiple information points on one screen (restaurants, bathrooms, theaters,……… coffee).
In the beginning, there were stacks of legos. While regional scenario planning can actually be successful with checkers and legos, it’s the next level down augmented reality adds detail and value. For neighborhood planning, augmented reality can activate comments on massing, tiering, tree canopy, shadows, new street grids, and location of public amenities and parks. In fact, one of the most important conversations cities and suburbs will be having is the pattern of redevelopment. Seeing where to put "right density, right place" is essential and current 3-D material models are expensive, time consuming and difficult to redo on the fly.
This, of course, means that you need technicians at the table who can identify early where a scenario-in-the-making is not feasible. Planners used to saying “I’ll get back to you” won’t have that luxury when technology brings the ability to shape and reshape on the fly.
Individual buildings & Projects
For residents, the more “real” redevelopment gets, the higher the anxiety level. And nothing is more real than an actual project proposal. Augmented reality may pose a conundrum, since it takes the proposal building or center, and then makes that even more real. Imagine taking locals to a site, holding up a tablet computer, and showing the design in situ. But as the publico and technocrati become one and the same, the ability to see this level of detail is inevitable, so we might as well begin redirecting public processes in that direction. The photo is from an excellent 5 minute video from Greg Tran.
This is where augmented reality gets really fun. Perhaps one of the more immediate uses is for asset mapping. NearestWiki from Acrossair and Wikitude allow participants to geocode locations and enter information. This can be an easy fun way to get more local icons into Wikipedia. Geocoding is also great for promoting small and local business – augmented reality allows small business without a massive PR and sign budget can compete in the virtual space.
Of course, not everyone at the public participation table will be out there coding, and one theme of this article is how augmented reality applications complement good old fashioned maps, comment cards and conversation.
Of course the best part of new technology (especially when launched by a huge company) are the spoofs. The following is by rebellious pixels. Enjoy!